By Brady Huggett

Aurora Biosciences Corp. acquired Quorum Sciences Inc. for 81,287 shares common stock worth about $3.8 million, based on Friday's opening price of $47.

"What attracted us to Quorum is that they have a very unique position in the field of biofilms and quorum sensing," said Doug Farrell, senior director, investor relations and corporate communications at Aurora. "We feel this gives us a world-class discovery capability in the field of antimicrobial therapeutics."

The merger will be accounted for using the pooling-of-interests method. Aurora's stock (NASDAQ:ABSC) closed at $51.984 Friday, up $4.98, or about 11 percent.

Aurora, of San Diego, designs, develops and commercializes drug discovery technologies, services and systems to discover new medicines. Its core technologies include proprietary fluorescence assays such as GeneBLAzer and VIPR, its functional genomics GenomeScreen program, its automated master compound store and its ultra-high-throughput screening system UHTSS Platform and subsystems.

Quorum, of Frederick, Md., focuses on assay development for quorum sensing - the ability of microorganisms to organize through signals secreted among themselves - and biofilms in microorganisms.

The companies have a common partner in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, of Bethesda, Md. In May, Quorum received almost $1 million from the foundation to continue the development of its antibacterial treatment. One month later, Aurora signed a five-year agreement with the CFF to identify and develop two to three new cystic fibrosis candidates, a collaboration that could be worth $46.9 million for Aurora - $30 million in technology access fees and $16.9 million if two to three compounds receive initial approval by the FDA. But Farrell said the CFF had little to do with the acquisition. (See BioWorld Today, May 12, 2000; and June 1, 2000.)

"It was less that, than it was we talked to a lot of people in the field who said that Quorum could be very valuable to our research," Farrell said. "And Peter Greenberg [chief scientific officer at Quorum] is the leading expert in the field of biofilms."

Biofilms are organized communities of bacteria that communicate via quorum sensing. When bacteria are free-floating inside the body, traditional antibiotics kill them or block their growth, but biofilm communities secrete slime, for lack of a better word, that serves as protection and prevents them from being treated effectively with antibiotics. More than 80 percent of cystic fibrosis patients have Pseudomonas aeruginosa residing in a biofilm on their lungs.

Farrell said Quorum has two patents filed related to quorum sensing and another six related to biofilm regulation.

In the spring, Aurora sought $207.3 million through a public offering, but withdrew the proposal a week later citing an unstable market. (See BioWorld Today, March 21, 2000; and March 27, 2000.)

Aurora has commercialization agreements for discovery services, licenses or systems with more than 15 life sciences companies and research organizations, including Eli Lilly and Co., Genentech Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. Inc. and Pfizer Inc. Farrell said it is likely more partners are on the way.

"We don't do clinical trials so we are looking for partners," Farrell said. "We obviously know who the major players are in this industry but we haven't decided yet. It may be someone new or someone we have had a long-standing relationship with."

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